Resolving and Exploiting the k-CFA Paradox: Illuminating Functional vs. Object-oriented Program Analysis

TitleResolving and Exploiting the k-CFA Paradox: Illuminating Functional vs. Object-oriented Program Analysis
Publication TypeConference Papers
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsMight M, Smaragdakis Y, Van Horn D
Conference NamePLDI '10 Proceedings of the 2010 ACM SIGPLAN Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation
Date Published2010///
ISBN Number978-1-4503-0019-3
Keywordscontrol-flow analysis, functional, k-cfa, m-cfa, object-oriented, pointer analysis, static analysis

Low-level program analysis is a fundamental problem, taking the shape of "flow analysis" in functional languages and "points-to" analysis in imperative and object-oriented languages. Despite the similarities, the vocabulary and results in the two communities remain largely distinct, with limited cross-understanding. One of the few links is Shivers's k-CFA work, which has advanced the concept of "context-sensitive analysis" and is widely known in both communities. Recent results indicate that the relationship between the functional and object-oriented incarnations of k-CFA is not as well understood as thought. Van Horn and Mairson proved k-CFA for k ≥ 1 to be EXPTIME-complete; hence, no polynomial-time algorithm can exist. Yet, there are several polynomial-time formulations of context-sensitive points-to analyses in object-oriented languages. Thus, it seems that functional k-CFA may actually be a profoundly different analysis from object-oriented k-CFA. We resolve this paradox by showing that the exact same specification of k-CFA is polynomial-time for object-oriented languages yet exponential-time for functional ones: objects and closures are subtly different, in a way that interacts crucially with context-sensitivity and complexity. This illumination leads to an immediate payoff: by projecting the object-oriented treatment of objects onto closures, we derive a polynomial-time hierarchy of context-sensitive CFAs for functional programs.